Answer to Map #71

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Answer: This week’s map was a dot map depicting the locations of every open U.S. embassy and consulate around the world.

The U.S. maintains embassies in most of the world’s capital cities. In addition, it maintains consulates in many other large cities that are not national capitals. If you look at the capitals where the U.S. does not have an embassy, you can find lots of interesting stories.

Let’s start in Africa. The U.S. has not maintained an embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia, since the early 1990s, when the country was embroiled in a bitter conflict. In 1993, two American Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in Somalia, an incident that killed 18 U.S. soldiers. Recently, American officials have talked about formally re-opening an American embassy in the country. When then-Secretary of State John Kerry visited Mogadishu in 2015, the Somali president presented him with a deed for land on which the U.S. could build a new embassy. For now, however, the U.S. ambassador to Somalia works out of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

The U.S. does actually have an embassy in Tripoli, Libya, but it is currently closed on account of that country’s dangerous civil war. It’s mainly a semantic difference, but the official status of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli (“closed”) is different from the official status of the U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria, which technically continues to exist even though a quick perusal of its website will tell you that it is not actually performing any of its usual functions as Syria’s civil war rages on.

The U.S. also does not maintain embassies in Iran or North Korea, two countries with which the U.S. does not have official diplomatic relations. In both countries, the U.S. is represented by a “protecting power,” a neutral country that functions as an intermediary between the U.S. and the local government. In Iran, Switzerland fulfills this function; in North Korea, Sweden plays this role. (In case you’re wondering: Pakistan is the protecting power of Iran in the U.S., Oman is the protecting power of Iran in Canada, and Turkey is the protecting power of the U.S. in Libya.)

You may also have noticed that there are many countries that are so small that the U.S. does not maintain embassies there. In those cases, a single U.S. embassy in a nearby country fulfills its function for multiple countries. For example, the U.S. ambassador to Senegal serves concurrently as the U.S. ambassador to neighboring Guinea-Bissau. One person with a particularly busy job is the U.S. ambassador in Bridgetown, Barbados; she is concurrently accredited to every country in the Lesser Antilles.

Finally, one country that has been in the news a lot lately is Israel. When Israel was established in 1948, most countries that established relations with Israel set up embassies not in the capital of Jerusalem, but in another city, Tel Aviv. The contested border between Israel and (at that time) Jordan ran right through the heart of Jerusalem, and the city’s status was always a matter of some dispute. Since the 1990s, the U.S. government has been formally committed to promoting the “two-state solution” to achieve peace in the region. That plan calls for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Most Palestinian officials assert that Jerusalem should also be the capital of Palestine. One of the obstacles to finding a lasting resolution to the Israel–Palestine conflict has been disagreement over the future status of the city of Jerusalem. As a result, American presidents long resisted exacerbating tensions in the region by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Last month, however, the Trump administration broke with this precedent by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing that the U.S. will soon relocate its embassy.

One of the challenges that the U.S. State Department faces in a time of global conflict is the prospect of building embassies that can house huge staffs with the most modern equipment in locations safe from such threats as terrorism and espionage. Once upon a time, embassies tended to be small buildings in the heart of capital cities. Not any more! When the U.S. builds new embassies, it tends to opt for enormous compounds on the edges of cities. The new embassies are inevitably ringed with blast walls, and some recent structures have even been guarded by moats. The new U.S. embassy in London, for example, cost over $1 billion. The U.S. embassy planned for Mexico City has already cost $120 million for the land and $56 million in planning costs—and workers haven’t even started building it yet. Given these challenges, it’s hard even to imagine how much a new American embassy in Jerusalem would cost to build and to defend.

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